A common practice for livestock producers in northern climates is setting out bales of hay and "bale-grazing" through the winter months. These bales leave behind organic matter that is great fuel for the soil. However, these areas are often unproductive in the first season after feeding because the residue mulches the ground, suppressing growth for several months until it breaks down.
This weed suppression is a prime opportunity to transplant some high-value specialty crops into a space where they don't have to compete for sunlight or other nutrients. A handheld drill auger attachment quickly makes an opening large enough for a started plant's roots without the need for conventional tillage or chemical burndowns. While the hand-planting could limit scaling, the reduction in weeding labor and chemical inputs should offset the additional planting labor.
Producing a high-value crop on land that would've been almost useless through the growing season can diversify income sources and provide the farmer and their community with additional local food choices. Our goal is to identify which specialty crops respond well to this growing strategy in Minnesota by planting multiple varieties of >15 different specialty crops in a bale-grazed "sacrifice paddock" after the cows come off.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Evaluate the productivity of at least 20 specialty crops grown through bale residue
- Identify at least 5 specialty crops that thrive in the low-maintenance system for other ranchers to consider growing
- Share findings through a field day, online pictures, and social media